EDITOR’S NOTE: Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations at Union University, is in Beijing Aug. 6-16 covering the 2008 Olympics for Baptist Press. He is assisted with photography by David McIntyre, a freelancer based in Asia. Baptist Press will publish features about Christian athletes in the Olympics, give results of their competition as well as highlight and summarize the Summer Games. Also, Tim will blog throughout each day about his experiences with athletes, coaches and the Chinese people. He will continue his coverage from the U.S. from Aug. 17-25.
BEIJING (BP)–More than 91,000 people watched the long-awaited and elaborately produced opening ceremony to start the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing Aug. 8 at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium.
The four-hour ceremony celebrated the cultural history of China and featured thousands of performers, intricate choreography and dazzling light displays. More than 15,000 costumes were used in the production.
Rehearsal for some performances began 13 months ago, and volunteers began their first mass rehearsal in March.
Following the production, the ceremony featured the traditional parade of athletes from 205 countries, brief addresses from Liu Qiu, president of the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, and Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, and the declaration of the official opening of the Olympics by Hu Jintao, president of the People’s Republic of China.
The ceremony concluded with the entry of the Olympic flag, an oath by the athletes to abide by the rules “in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams” and the lighting of the Olympic torch. The torch relay began April 1 and crossed five continents and 21 countries, with more than 2,000 people bearing the flame.
“This is a very special season,” Beijing resident Tan Yu Huai said prior to the ceremony. “Right now it is a very special Beijing. Right now it is the greatest time in China.”
Philadelphia resident Nancy Whelan and her sister, Mary Ann Whelan of New York, were decked out in red, white and blue to cheer for the United States during the ceremony.
They began planning their trip to the Beijing Olympics two years ago, but the trip was in jeopardy when Mary Ann broke her leg in six places at the end of June.
But Mary Ann got approval from her doctor only one week ago for the journey.
“We’re just … thrilled to be here,” Nancy said.
Mark Tedder, an American, lives in Beijing and won a ticket for the opening ceremony in an online ticketing lottery about a year ago.
“I think everybody in Beijing’s excited,” Tedder said. “Here in the city there’s been a buzz. It’s been exciting over the last two years to see how the city’s grown and to see how they’ve built new buildings for the Olympics.”
Tedder and his family came to Beijing two years ago so he could serve a two-year commitment as worship leader at Beijing International Christian Fellowship. They will return to the United States at the end of August.
“I think the government and the people who relate to the Olympics specifically are expecting China to have its coming out party these next few weeks,” Tedder said of the Olympics. “As a result of that, I think it will put China on the world stage.”
He also thinks the Olympics may open up opportunities for people to come to China to live, teach and minister. That’s a sentiment shared by many local pastors, Tedder said, that the aftermath of the Olympics may lead to greater religious freedom in a country that has historically denied Christians full freedom to worship without government approval.
“No one knows for sure,” Tedder said, “but because they’ve opened their doors so wide, I think there’s an incredible opportunity for people to come and give themselves away for a year or two years.”